Indonesian minister to governors: Get tough on haze culprits

Air force personnel arriving yesterday to help firemen combat fires in Pekanbaru, Riau province.
Air force personnel arriving yesterday to help firemen combat fires in Pekanbaru, Riau province.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,

Indonesia sends more troops to Kalimantan, Sumatra as four firms linked to fires identified

Coordinating Minister for Security and Political Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan is pushing for recalcitrant firms behind forest fires that produce the thick haze engulfing parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to be punished.

"No more playing around," said Mr Luhut in a meeting with senior officials in Jakarta. "Don't let there be any reluctance, send the culprits to jail, don't just fine them."

His comments come on the back of stepped-up troop deployment to help combat fires mostly on peat land in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the cause of the worsening haze.

The Indonesian armed forces yesterday afternoon started the deployment of 1,000 more boots on the ground to battle the flames.

This will bring the total number of soldiers sent to Sumatra on the firefighting mission to 2,259.

STIFFER PENALTIES

No more playing around... Send the culprits to jail, not just fine them.

COORDINATING MINISTER FOR SECURITY AND POLITICAL AFFAIRS LUHUT BINSAR PANJAITAN

ENFORCE THE LAW

Let's show our neighbouring countries that we are indeed able to enforce the law... Prosecute the board of directors, no more compromises.

MR LUHUT, on recalcitrant companies

Mr Luhut is one of Indonesian President Joko Widodo's closet aides. His tirade yesterday was directed at six provincial governors from Sumatra and Kalimantan, who are grappling with a haze problem that has not only rendered parts of their cities unliveable, but also created a transnational crisis affecting Indonesia's neighbours.

The Indonesian government, said Mr Luhut, has already located the sources of the fires as well as identified the companies with land concessions which may be behind the flames. This, he added, could pave the way for prosecuting those responsible for wrongdoing.

"As a sovereign country, we should not let others think we cannot solve our own problem," he said. "Let's show to our neighbouring countries that we are indeed... able to enforce the law. The process of business-licence revocation and suspension must start... Prosecute the board of directors, no more compromises."

The high-level meeting led by Mr Luhut was attended by Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar, South Sumatra Governor Alex Nurdin, acting Riau Governor Arsyadjuliandi Rachman, military commander Gatot Nurmantyo and police chief Badrodin Haiti, among others.

Ms Siti told reporters after the meeting that four firms linked to the illegal fires have been identified, although she declined to name them. "This week, we will suspend the business licences of four companies that caused the fires - two operating in South Sumatra province and two in Riau province," she said.

"These companies will be barred from operating while their cases are being tried in court."

A proposal by General Badrodin at the meeting to blacklist the names of directors and shareholders of errant firms so they cannot get concession rights elsewhere was accepted by Mr Luhut and Ms Siti. General Gatot's proposal to seal off fire-ravaged areas for good to avoid repeat incidents was also taken.

 

Meanwhile, thick smoke continues to blanket Sumatra despite sporadic rainfall yesterday. The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) in the Riau province capital of Pekanbaru, fell to 250 late on Monday.

Although that was still in the "very unhealthy" range, it was an improvement from the record 984 registered on Sunday.

However, clouds above Sumatra are expected to be conducive for cloud-seeding operations, giving the authorities an invaluable window to kill off any raging fires, said Dr Heru Widodo.

Dr Heru heads the weather modification team at the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT). He said yesterday that since Monday, "things have changed and we may have clouds which may last for 14 days."

The Riau provincial government has offered to use government buildings as evacuation points if the haze continues to worsen. "The priority will be given to women, children, the elderly and those with asthma or hyper-allergy symptoms, said Mr Arsyadjuliandi.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Minister to governors: Get tough on haze culprits'. Print Edition | Subscribe